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Harworth Colliery

Harworth Colliery 08-07-00


Doncaster, South Yorkshire






Trade Union History of Harworth


To the uninitiated Harworth is to all intents and purposes a Doncaster pit, sitting as it does just over the fields from Rossington and a few miles from Doncaster. It is however a Nottingham pit, its workforce much more strongly inclined to the dominant moderate traditions of that coalfield rather than the ‘red ragging’ pit culture of Doncaster. Being on the border of both traditions it has been the storm centre of internal political and trade union struggle on a number of occasions.


Following the betrayal of the miners by the TUC General Council, the miners fought on alone in dire poverty and deprivation for another nine months in many cases, before the strike collapsed. The collapse brought viscous victimisation, the blacklist and a purge on Trade Unionism. Among all of this rose the so called ‘Spencer Union’ in the Nottingham coalfield but attempting to spread into other coalfields. It called itself ‘a non-political union’ and meant by this it was anti-militant, anti-strike, and thoroughly anti anything socialist. The TUC had tried to redeem itself and helped the MFGB to campaign against the antiunion and in a coalfield ballot of 1928 the Nottingham miners voted 9 to 1 in favour of the MFGB.


Notts miners vote in ballot organised by TUC in 1928

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Despite this & to encourage the survival of this Spencer organisation the MFGB (the miners union) was virtually banned. Despite this and through thick and thin 20% of the Nottingham miners stuck to the MFGB. The struggle between the two organisations was bitter and Harworth was destined to be the storm centre when it broke in 1936. The Harworth MFGB miners struck in support of a demand for union recognition. It was to be a bitterly fought campaign lasting 6 months, during which time the strikers faced the most sever police harassment , along with evictions and arrests. Jack Riley a Harworth miner’s son and later NUM Secretary at Rossington told me his first memory of police was as a lad, seeing his Dad falling through their back door into the kitchen his head streaming with blood, pursued by police with clubs, who went onto lay his mother out on the floor with a truncheon blow and knock him into a corner.


Mick Kane (later jailed for fight against Spencerism) leads Harworth Victory March.

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When the strike was over the Union’s branch president Mick Kane, was charged with riot and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. Of the seventeen charged with him, eleven miners and one women (who was a miners wife) were given sentences ranging from four to fifteen months jail with hard labour, the remaining five were bound over.


Page from a 1937 pamphlet, urging support for jailed Harworth strikers.

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The strike served as a beacon of resistance in the Nottingham coalfield, which was already becoming aware that its moderation and non-unionism had made its wages even lower than the poverty level they were at elsewhere. However the struggle was not seen through, under political pressure from the Labour Party leadership the Miners Federation leaders sat down to accommodate the Spencer entity and open up merger talks. The settlement terms allowed George Spencer to become president of the Nottingham Area of the MFGB. In 1937 the breakaway section re-merged with the MFGB, but cast a fault line which despite successful joint nation-wide actions in 72 & 74, was destined when the whole organisation once more entered a life and death struggle in 1984 to fracture along the same lines. The Nottingham miners again establishing an ‘anti militant, anti political, and left organisation’ in the shape of the UDM. The scenes of the old battles once more were revisited in bitter struggle a full generation later.

(Photos in this section from A Century Of Struggle, Britain's Miners In Pictures 1889-1989)


Silverhill picket - Dave Douglass


During a mass picket at Silverhill in Nottingham the colliery and the blacklegs were violently attacked, by the time the police arrived the pickets were already leaving, they thought we were going home, which we feigned. In truth was this was an evening hit squad raid and Harworth was the target. The blacklegs were already in their duds ready to descend on the evening shift, the pit was lightly guarded by a handful of police when the surprise invasion by hundreds of pickets swept into the village and attacked the colliery, forcing the blacklegs and police to scatter. The pit canteen and car park bore full measure of the pickets anger and a number of cars sat upside down while the local police station had been blitzed.

Of course such actions were not ‘organised’ certainly they had no official sanction from Barnsley the Yorkshire Area strike HQ. The picket co-ordinators had no idea of the previous evenings raid as they issued instructions for the morning picket target..Harworth Colliery !

By this time an army of very pissed off police was already all over the village, and the blacklegs were in foul mood too, our nerve was less than steely as we approached the village. I myself resolved to stay away from the picket line, having just got out of nick from a previous picket. It was to lead to a most embarrassing incident, with me digging a scab’s garden !

I was sitting on a garden wall, watching the day go by and had quite forgot what I was doing here, when I noticed the scab bus coming into the village. I immediately picked up a brick to persuade the pickets not to go to work and had ran toward the bus shouting persuasive words, something along the lines of "scabby bastards" as I recall. The occupants of the bus noticed me at the same time as I discovered, no it wasn't the scab bus. It was a bus full of Metropolitan Police just arrived from London and now they were pouring off the bus and pelting down the street, riot shields and clubs in hands after me. I ran and ran and unlike normally happens these buggers didn't give up and continued chasing me. I shot down a side street and there was a bloke up a ladder painting his house. I shot down the side of his house and round the back into the garden. I could still hear the police shouting "he’s gone down there, down that house" they were coming. Quick as a flash I had pulled my shirt off, picked up the garden fork and made as if I was digging the garden down by the rhubarb. Then the rhubarb rustled and a pair of feet and legs became visible, "piss off stupid get" it was another picket ! By this time they had arrived panting their clubs in hand visors down. I walked toward them, still pretending to be the house owner, trouble was I didn't really know what a Nottingham accent was like. "All-rieght" I droned in a voice I thought reminiscent of Ray Chadburn (the NUM Nottingham leader). Just then the bloke started down his ladder as the cops eyed me and the garden suspiciously. I walked up to the bloke and whispered, "I’m all right aren't I ?" "That just depends how you look at it he replied" "only I’m on afters at that pit in a minute" he was a scab ! Looking between the cops and scabs, I decided discretion was the better part of valour. "Look do you want your bliddy garden digging or don't you ?" I said.

The Present

The Colliery, is today owned by RJB who bought it in 1994. The pit has two vertical shafts of 900 and 1000m, which were originally sunk in the 1920’s. The pit has had recent heavy investment in deepening the shafts and upgrading its winders. Future work is said to be in the Deep Soft seam, which has the current workings. There are further accessible reserves in Top Hard seam which lies at a shallower depth to the east of the Deep Soft reserve. Harworth is bounded at its northern boundary by Rossington, the colliery would seem unrestricted for development in all other directions, and as with Thorne there ought to be massive reserves out toward the east coast but this seems not to have been highlighted in the DTI commissioned report, but had been on earlier NCB plans for the colliery.

The Deep Soft has estimated 34 million tonnes some 2.9m thick. There are, as stated also reserves within a block of Hard Top seam which is of much better quality estimated at 9 mt 1.7 to 2.4m thick. The pit currently works 2 longwall faces. Manpower around 600.


Into the Future...


Future Prospects.



The pit is known as very gassy and this has lead to disruption of production and development. Great mining potential and reserves remain.



We received this e-mail in which the sender, John Riley, wishes to point out a couple of corrections to the information on this page:

My name is John Riley. If you dont mind I would like to correct a factual error in regard to the history of Harworth colliery (On your web site http://www.minersadvice.co.uk/harworth.htm).

Jack Riley is my Uncle. Uncle Jack's claim as to the nature of the attack by the police on my grandfather is sadly an untruth. The attack did happen. But it was not upon my grandfather, John Riley. But upon another individual.

The true victim was the manager of the Comrades club (An instituition set up by striking miners) in Harworth and his wife. As I understand the situation the police were involved in a confontation near the comrades club, and it was this that resulted in the attack.

John Riley


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